THE HISTORY OF KITTUR
(abridged from A Short History of Kittur by Father Basil d’Essa, S.J.)
The word “Kittur” is a corruption either of “Kiri Uru,” meaning “small town,” or of “Kittamma’s Uru”—Kittamma being a goddess specializing in repelling smallpox and whose temple stood near today’s train station. A letter from a Syrian Christian merchant written in 1091 recommends to his peers the excellent natural harbour of the town of Kittur, on the Malabar Coast. During the entire twelfth century, however, the town appears to have vanished; Arab merchants who visited Kittur in 1141 and 1190 record only wilderness. In the fourteenth century a dervish named Yusuf Ali began curing lepers at the Bunder; when he died, his body was entombed in a white dome, and the structure—the Dargah of Hazrat Yusuf Ali—has remained an object of pilgrimage to the present day. In the late fifteenth century, “Kittore, also known as the citadel of elephants” is listed in the tax-collection records of the Vijayanagara rulers as one of the provinces of their empire. In 1649, a four-man Portuguese missionary delegation led by Fr. Cristoforo d’Almeida, S.J., trekked down the coast from Goa to Kittur; it found “a deplorable mess of idolators, Mohammedans, and elephants.” The Portuguese drove out the Mohammedans, pulverised the idols, and distilled the wild elephants into a rubble of dirty ivory. Over the next hundred years, Kittur—now renamed Valencia—passed back and forth between the Portuguese, the Marathas, and the kingdom of Mysore. In 1780, Hyder Ali, the ruler of Mysore, defeated an army of the East India Company near the Bunder; by the Treaty of Kittur, signed that year, the Company renounced its claims on “Kittore, also called Valencia or The Bunder.” The Company violated the treaty after Hyder Ali’s death in 1782, by setting up a military camp near the Bunder; in retaliation, Tippu, the son of Hyder Ali, constructed the Sultan’s Battery, a formidable fortress of black stone mounted with French guns. After Tippu’s death in 1799, Kittur became Company property, and was annexed into the Madras Presidency. The town, like most of South India, took no part in the great anti-British mutiny of 1857. In 1921, an activist of the Indian National Congress raised a tricolour at the old lighthouse: the freedom struggle had come to Kittur.